Kevin Di Camillo, B.A.’92, Comes Full Circle
March 20, 2018 by Lisa McMahon, M.A.'09
Kevin Di Camillo, B.A.’92, thought he’d work in his family’s bakery, as generations of Di Camillos had done before him. Instead, he became an editor, a poet, and a professor, and even briefly considered life as a priest.
Throughout his high school years at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, Kevin had worked at Di Camillo Bakery, the iconic Italian bakery that was one of the first to open in Niagara Falls, N.Y. When he graduated, he planned to continue working there, with his father, Thomas, B.S.’63, who was—and still is—the head baker. But his parents and grandparents, all Niagara University alumni, implored him to go to college first. So he enrolled at NU, intending to earn a degree in business before returning to the bakery.
Kevin quickly discovered that he did not have an affinity for the math that his business courses required, so he entered the Academic Exploration Program and discovered a passion for writing.
In 1992, with a degree in English and a minor in business, he headed to Harvard, where he was one of six students selected for the university’s Graduate Poetry Workshop. The following fall, he received a full scholarship to begin his master’s degree studies in English literature at Notre Dame and, upon graduation in 1995, left for New York City to live the life of an artist.
“I lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn,” he says. “There were all these artists and writers and it was really an exciting time to be young in New York.”
After publishing his first book of poetry in 1997, “Of The Hovrs,” he realized that writing wouldn’t pay the bills. With the assistance of Brother Augustine Towey, former director of NU Theatre and a dear friend and mentor, Kevin attended St. John’s University on a doctoral research fellowship, then became a university fellow, in pursuit of his doctor of arts degree so he could teach.
“Today, almost all poets are professors, and I guess I begrudgingly said I’d keep going to school and teach, but my heart wasn’t 100 percent in it,” he explains.
He finished his coursework, but when it came time to do his dissertation, he decided to explore another path that had been beckoning: that of the religious life.
He moved to Green Bay, Wisc., to discern his calling at St. Norbert Abbey. He spent the Jubilee Year living with the Praemonstratensian canons there and prayerfully determining whether or not he was being called to the priesthood.
Turns out, he wasn’t, so he moved back to New York City and got his first job in publishing as an editorial assistant at The Crossroad Publishing Company, then obtained a position as editor at Paulist Press, the largest Catholic publisher in the United States. He remained there for nearly a decade, editing books by best-selling Catholic authors including James Martin, Samuel Rodriguez, and Richard Rohr, as well as establishing the noted Deacons’ Library.
Kevin was still writing himself, but he enjoyed the challenge of finding authors and helping them build their books, because it gave him an opportunity to learn new things. He likens the job of editor to that of a midwife, noting that you bring a book “to birth.”
In 2010, Kevin attended the inaugural Yale School of Management’s Publishing Course and began editing as a freelancer while working as a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives and a contributing writer for the National Catholic Register. He regularly returns to Yale during the summer for the Publishing Course.
During his time in New York City, Kevin was anthologized in “Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian-Americana,” and awarded the Foley Poetry Prize from America magazine. He also married his wife, Alicia, successfully battled testicular cancer, and adopted twin infants, who are now 10 years old. He says that adopting and raising the twins, Agnes and Giovanni Paulo, are what he is proudest to have accomplished.
Kevin’s desire to provide the twins with the kind of childhood he and his wife enjoyed, growing up in large extended families with their cousins as best friends, brought him back home to Niagara Falls, where he has come full circle to work for his family’s bakery, this time as head copywriter, and to teach in the English department at NU. He notes that Dr. William Martin, who was his mentor when he was a student, is now his mentor again, in NU’s professor/adjunct mentorship program.
“Without him, I doubt I'd love literature as much as I do ... and wonder if I ever would have followed in his footsteps to Notre Dame and then back to NU,” he says.
Kevin also recently released his fourth book of poetry (his first since 1999), “Now Chiefly Poetical,” much of which was written when he was in his 20s and on a European vacation he was gifted by a friend in the religious travel business in gratitude for the connections Kevin made for him with the religious at Notre Dame.
“Poetry is for young people,” he says. “There’s a vitality and a fire to it. I’m kind of blessed that I got to write a lot of this when I was younger.”
His current literary pursuit is a history of his family’s bakery, which opened in 1920 and is being operated by second-, third-, and fourth-generation family members.
“I’m working on interviewing members of the family about their memories,” Kevin says. “We’ve always reinvented ourselves, so who knows what the future will hold.”